So, it seems General Motors’s EV1 of 1996 was indeed ahead of its time. Mass-production electric cars are back, and this time it seems as though they are generating a bit of noise that’s certainly louder than their drivetrains.
There are myriad issues still to be dealt with, however, before the public will be buying EVs in any significant number: embryonic recharging infrastructures; driving ranges that are only from about a quarter to half that of a car with an internal combustion engine; and high vehicle prices.
The Hyundai Ioniq Electric can at least claim, for now, to step in as Australia’s most affordable EV priced from $44,990.
(And unlike those models, the Ioniq offers cheaper hybrid alternatives – both regular and Plug-in – to cater to those enticed by electrification, but not yet ready to make the full-blown commitment to abandoning the internal combustion engine.)
There are also two pricepoints for the Electric.
The entry ‘Elite’ version includes 15-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start, tyre-pressure monitoring, one-touch windows, rain-sensing wipers, electric folding mirrors (with puddle lights), dual-zone climate, electronic park brake, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen plus smartphone integration, 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat.
Add another $4000 to your outlay and there’s the Premium trim grade with extras such as front parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, electric sunroof, leather-appointed seats with ventilation and heating for the fronts plus driver’s power adjustment, steering wheel with heating function, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, paddle-shift levers, USB port in the centre console, wireless smartphone charging, and Hyundai’s app-based Auto Link Premium.
All Ioniqs come with Hyundai’s group of Smart Sense technologies, comprising autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, fatigue warning, and lane-keeping assist.
This puts the Ioniq Electric Premium on about par for specification with the top-spec $33,990 Elantra Sport Premium. Differences are also cancelled out, with the Ioniq’s adaptive cruise and a larger driver display countered by the Elantra’s bigger (18-inch) wheels and hands-free tailgate function.
So, from this you could extrapolate that you’re effectively paying $15,000 for the Ioniq’s electric powertrain. Battery technology clearly still isn’t cheap (though at least batteries are included!).
While there are three Ioniq variants, the Electric’s front cabin differs slightly. One subtle touch is a dedicated Driver Only climate-control button, exclusive to the Electric, to help efficiency.
More prominently, the absence of a conventional gearbox allowed Hyundai to give the Electric model a different centre console, featuring a large storage area at the front, plus buttons for the transmission on top, along with an upright smartphone holder with wireless charging (in the Premium test car we were sampling).
Also conspicuous by its (welcome) absence is a foot-operated parking brake that detracts slightly from the ‘advanced-car’ pitch of the hybrid Ioniqs.
Interestingly, though, Hyundai’s interior designers opted against giving the Ioniq Electric any of the slightly eccentric, futuristic touches the designers from Renault and Nissan tried with the Zoe and Leaf, respectively.
An i30 or Elantra owner, for example, wouldn’t find any shocks by jumping into the Ioniq. This includes Hyundai’s effective infotainment touchscreen set-up.
The front seats provide ample comfort, while in the rear there’s a good amount of space for knees. Taller passengers will just find headroom isn’t quite as generous. The rear seats fold in the traditional 60-40 configuration to create extra cargo space when needed.
In place, regular boot space is below the small-car average at 350L – and 45L and 108L less than the luggage compartments of the i30 and Elantra models respectively. This is mainly due to the shallowness of the Ioniq’s boot – a consequence of the need to accommodate a large battery pack. The Electric misses out on the under-floor storage available in the Ioniq Hybrid.
To compensate for its lack of secondary, petrol power compared with other Ioniq models, the Electric variant features the biggest battery capacity: 28 kilowatt hours (kWh) versus 8.9kWh (Plug-in) and 1.56kWh (Hybrid).
And while on paper the 88kW of its electric motor pales to the 104kW combined power output of the hybrid models, its maximum torque – 295Nm – is 30Nm higher.
That higher torque figure is only accessed when Sport mode is engaged, yet you can stay in Normal mode for satisfyingly instantaneous throttle response and linear acceleration that are hallmarks of electric vehicles.
Progress is effortless whether you’re on the flat or a hill, while pressing that Sport button takes performance to another level. Sport makes the Ioniq Electric particularly effective at negotiating busy traffic, such as when you want to fill a gap that’s just popped up.
In keeping with another well-known quirk of EVs, you can use the Ioniq’s accelerator pedal predominantly to slow the car instead of using the brake pedal. Not by pushing it, of course, but by releasing it – either gradually or suddenly depending on how quickly you want to slow/stop.
Releasing the accelerator pedal also initiates regenerative braking, whereby the electric motor effectively turns from power unit to generator to help recharge the vehicle’s batteries.
Applying the actual brakes serves a similar purpose. Drivers can tailor the Ioniq’s regen’ braking system via the paddle-shift levers – which aren’t there to change ratios for a car that has just one gear.
There are four settings: Level 0 is no regen’ braking and the Ioniq will simply freewheel owing to the absence of conventional engine braking but with no boost for the battery pack; Level 1 is light regen’ braking, with a subtle deceleration rate when you step off the accelerator; Level 2 is the setting most CarAdvice testers preferred, balancing stronger but easily manageable deceleration with a good level of recharging; Level 3 is the most aggressive setting, where stepping off the gas pedal feels like performing a semi-emergency stop.
If this one-pedal-driving practice sounds a bit odd, we can assure you it becomes instinctive very quickly.
Although the Ioniq features its drivetrain under the bonnet like a regular Hyundai model, the electric motor and all its ancillaries are lighter than one of the company’s four-cylinder petrol engines. So, whereas the hybrids are about 60/40 in terms of front/rear weight distribution, the Electric is close to the ideal 50-50.
The net effect is a front end that feels enjoyably wieldy, responding alertly to any turn of the steering wheel. This handling can be appreciated both around town and on a country road, even if the Ioniq Electric isn’t what you would describe as a dynamic car that will excite keener drivers.
Any driver – as well as occupants – will savour the Ioniq Electric’s smooth ride. Interestingly, the Electric employs a supposedly inferior torsion-beam rear suspension – to help accommodate its bigger battery – to the fully independent multi-link set-ups of other Ioniqs. Yet neither of the hybrid Ioniqs comes close to matching the Electric’s ability to soak up bumps.
One of the downsides of the electric motor is that while it’s super quiet, it can highlight the tyre noise from the Premium’s 17-inch tyres on coarser surfaces.
Another reason an Ioniq Electric may not be a certain buyer’s preference over an Elantra, or even the Ioniq hybrids, is range. Hyundai Australia quotes a “real world” range of 230km for the Electric, which is more than sufficient to make the Ioniq a good ‘daily’. Longer trips, however, will require major route planning – and the checking of relevant apps/websites – to ensure there are charging stations available to replenish the battery.
Encouragingly, our testing confirmed not only that Hyundai’s claim is pretty spot on, but that the Ioniq’s trip computer provides a fairly accurate gauge of changing range.
For public charging stations, owners will need the optional ($495) Type 2 plug. DC (direct current) charging stations are needed for properly fast charges, which will still require hanging around for up to half an hour for an 80 per cent charge.
The Ioniq comes with a standard cable that can plug into a regular household power socket, though a full charge takes a glacial 12 hours (even if much of that time can be overnight, where owners will also benefit from lower electricity rates).
For owners with garages (or owned apartment parking bays), a $1995 Delta in-home charger installation will perform the charge in just under four-and-a-half hours.
The Electric’s on-board charger includes a scheduling function, so the vehicle can be plugged in at a certain time of day but charging delayed until later (again, useful for ensuring charging occurs at a time when electricity costs are cheaper).
Off-peak rates will virtually guarantee cheaper running costs compared with an equivalent petrol/diesel. Whether you’re actually contributing to a healthier planet with zero emissions, however, will depend on how the electricity going into your EV is produced.
Another benefit for running costs is the relative simplicity of the electric drivetrain, which features fewer moving components and doesn’t require ladles of oil as with an internal combustion engine.
Annual service costs are just $160 for the Electric, whereas the petrol-electric Ioniqs cost between $265 and $465 every year. And in addition to Hyundai’s five-year warranty, there’s a dedicated warranty for the Ioniq’s battery: eight years (or up to 160,000km).
The Hyundai Ioniq may be the carmaker’s first foray into electrification, but it’s also the most convincing EV yet when considering the overall value package.
You can even order an alternative front-end design if you don’t like the matt-grey-plastic ‘grille’ of the standard model.
It’s worth noting, however, that because the Ioniq has been on sale since 2017 in some other markets, a facelift is already on the way – expected sometime in the second half of 2019 for Australia.